If you’ve surfed the internet or turned on the television in the past few months, you’ve seen the Ebola scare. Even before it hit the US, the spread of this deadly disease has put everyone on watch, as more and more people seem to be exposed to this brutal virus.
Ebola is spread through direct contact with liquids and secretions from someone that has the virus. It is also believed that most Ebola outbreaks of the past several decades started from exposure to monkeys, apes, and – most likely – bats.
The idea that animals may put people at risk for Ebola has led to some interesting news stories about the pets of those diagnosed with Ebola.
This news has led to a lot of confusion over the role that pets play in spreading disease, and leaves many pet owners wondering – can my pet catch or spread Ebola?
One of humanity’s greatest mistakes occured during the great plague which struck London, England in 1665. They killed all the dogs and cats since they mistakenly thought these animals spread the plague. This unfortunate action had exactly the reverse effect. In fact, it allowed the flea-bearing rats to propagate and to spread the real cause of the plague, bacteria-infested fleas as well as the rats themselves. Hopefully, we’ll remember and learn from this misguided action.
Pets and Ebola
While it is not 100% clear that dogs or cats can get sick from Ebola, there are no reported cases, according to the CDC (Center for Disease Control). However, out of an abundance of caution, health authorities are not assuming that transmission between humans and our beloved pets is impossible. While some studies showed antibodies inside of dogs that confirms the virus was once present, there is no evidence that dogs can either experience Ebola symptoms or spread the virus to other dogs or other species.
So precautions are still necessary for the very few people that have Ebola, because the cost of being wrong is so high. Also, Ebola IS a confirmed zoonotic disease, meaning it can be passed between different species. In fact, Ebola has been passed to humans from other primates and from fruit bats, but that’s not the same as passing the virus between humans and species that are more distantly related to us, such as dogs and cats.
Nevertheless, unless your pet is a primate or an undomesticated fruit bat that recently spent time in Africa, both you and your pet are probably safe from spreading the Ebola virus to each other. In fact, over precaution on the inter-species transmission issue could create its own problems. Many people would not report early symptoms if they knew their beloved pets could be destroyed as a result.
Diseases that Spread to and From Your Pets
Humans can transmit disease to pets, just as pets can transmit diseases to humans. Rabies, for example, can be passed from pet to human through a bite. Cat scratch disease can spread through a cut from a cat’s claw. Furthermore, Toxoplasmosis, often found in cats, is of particular concern to pregnant women since the infection can have a devastating effect upon the fetus. History has shown that humans can catch plague from a rodent bite as well as a bite from the fleas that they carry. It’s also possible that some bacterial infections can pass from humans to animals. But most of these are rare. There are very few illnesses that pass from human to pet and vice versa. Both humans and pets have diseases very similar to each other in symptoms, but there are very few diseases that pet owners need to worry about, especially if they give their pets regular vaccinations.
What You Should Do
Ebola does not spread very easily, and the likelihood that a pet will catch the disease – let alone spread it to you and your family – is infinitesimal. However, you should always take standard precautions to protect yourself:
Pay attention to the spread of Ebola.
Call the vet if your pet shows any signs of illness.
You should also make sure your pet is vaccinated for the diseases that do carry a risk (like rabies) and care for your pet just as you would with or without the risk of Ebola. If you’re concerned about your pet’s health or worried it may be showing signs of a disease, contact your local veterinarian.